Prince was not a fellow short of a muse. The little Purple One had scores of relationships to celebrate and lament the loss of in song. During his time, he championed many more female musicians than his peers, which in theory remains highly creditable, as to this day as women are still hugely underrepresented in many areas of the industry. However, a bit of judicious digging illuminates that his motive switches between trailblazing hero and amoral benefactor, depending on who you speak to.
Donna Grantis from the all-female band 3RDEYEGIRL, who played with Prince on live shows and albums in the latter stage of his career, once explained: “I think the respect and support he showed us, and other female musicians speaks volumes about his outlook on equality and sexism.” Whereas Susan Rogers, the sound engineer who worked with him extensively, has a different view. “Obviously he was a heterosexual man and enjoyed having beautiful women around,” Rogers says, “But he needed to the alpha male to get done what he needed to get done.”
While women may have always formed the backbone of his work, on more than a few occasions, they were the front and centre of the songs themselves. Below, we’re diving into his often-hazy back catalogue to take a look at the women he wrote about during a career, which he presided over like some uber-creative guitar-God Lothario.
The women who Prince wrote about:
When it came to the plethora of female collaborators that Prince worked with, he was known to occasionally mix business and pleasure. Sheila E. met Prince for the first time in 1978 and settled down as his sticksmith. She quickly became somewhat more than that and resided as a confidant throughout his life.
Sheila E. remarks: “We were together for so long, I don’t know when we weren’t.” But not only did he write songs about her during that time, he also gave some away to her. Many of the tracks Prince never claimed a songwriting credit for, so it’s difficult to say how many, but the most notable is ‘A Love Bizarre’.
The song is a tale that talks of “outrageous sin” and details the moment that they “got kinda rough in the back of our limousine.” This song was forecast from one of the very first things that Prince ever said to her. She walked in on a conversation he was having with bassist Andre Cymone, and Prince proclaimed backstage: “We’re just fighting about which one of us would be the first to be your husband.”
Prince may once said: “People hear the sex in my songs much more than I ever write it. If you listen to the words, you’ll see they’re about monogamy rather than promiscuous sex.” If that is the case, then he surely moved on quickly from a break-up.
Despite being enthralled with Sheila E., to the point that he was mentioning marriage at one of their first meetings, in 1979 he scored his first top 40 hit with ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’. On the liner notes to his The Hits / The B-Sides compilation, Prince states he was smitten with Rushen but nothing ever came of it. In fact, she even rejected him when he offered her ‘I Feel for You’ at a later date.
As Stevie Nicks will tell you, ‘When Doves Cry’ was inspired by the final refrain from her seminal ‘Edge of Seventeen’, but just as Lindsay Buckingham inspired her to use the pastiche of a weeping lovebird, there was a paramour behind Prince’s too.
According to biographer Per Nilsen, Moonsie and Prince became romantically entwined in the 1980s, and even posits that they were secretly engaged in 1981. She was reportedly offered the lead role in Purple Rain but was too timid to take it on, and thereafter she found herself competing for Prince’s affections, spawning one of his best songs in the process.
When Moonsie declined the lead role, the model Apollonia was quick to take her place. He then embarked on a fractious relationship with Apollonia that has prompted her in recent years to bitterly condemn Sheila E.’s tribute song to Prince as a “desperate attempt to be relevant.”
Following Purple Rain, she would later work with Prince on Apollonia 6, and it is also said many of his tales of twisted love from this era are a reflection of his own convoluted love life.
For the April 1982 cover of Rolling Stone, Prince proudly stands in satin purple, as is tradition, with Vanity’s arms over his shoulders and her hands down his pants. If ever a cover shot said, ‘We’re in a relationship,’ then it was that one.
Vanity was a model called Denise Matthews when Prince first met her, but he soon cajoled her into being the leader of Vanity 6. To get the band up and running he wrote them the song ‘Nasty Girl’ in homage to Vanity and her, ahem, nasty ways, only to topple his own muse off the top spot with ‘1999’.
When Prince signed on to do the soundtrack for Batman in 1989, it is hard to know whether he had half an eye on the movie’s leading lady, but he would find himself embroiled in a tempestuous relationship all the same.
It is hard to tell which songs from this period he penned with her in mind, but the line, “The dirty blonde from 9 and a half weeks,” in the song ‘Here Eye Come’ from Bria Valente’s album Eclixr, seems to be a nod.
When Prince met the 22-year-old poet Ingrid Chavez she quickly wormed her way into his songbook as the muse to his record Lovesexy. She was known as the Spirit Child on the record.
He later recorded a poetry album with her and encouraged her to form the band Skyfish with Richard Werbowenko. Sadly, it was just another passing fancy for Prince, but it certainly spawned a prolific creative period for him.
Prince’s relationship with Carmen Electra is well documented. From making her wear high heels in bed, to rebranding her name from Tara Leigh Patrick.
He also produced her self-titled debut album and helped to write most of the songs, but it is unclear whether she works her way directly into the lyrics of any of his own.
Prince’s first wife was his backing dancer Mayte Garcia. They married in 1996, but tragically their relationship would come under strain after the death of their son, Boy Gregory when he was a week old.
Throughout the period of his relationship with Garcia he would often hand over the reins of his creative project to Garcia for her input, thus he didn’t write songs about her, so much as he wrote songs with her, either directly or indirectly.
Prince was married to Manuela Testolini from 2001 until 2006. He met her while she was working at one of his many charitable organisations. While many of his previous courtships had been with women in the arts, Testolini was, in fact, a prominent businesswoman.
The most notable song he penned about her from this period was ‘The Dance’. In the track, he curses love like a scolded drunk in a bar. It might not be an ode, but the fact he recorded it twice during this period shows that he was certainly head over heels in one way or another.
Following his divorce from Testolini, Prince became more religious and kept his relationships private, thus the breadcrumb trail of his sonic love life goes silent from here. And in the words of Randy Newman, these are just some of the girls in his life.